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What do you feed your dog? May 23, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, pets, Uncategorized.
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Silence Dogood here. The question of what people feed their pets has fascinated me since I first read The New Natural Cat, with its recipe for “building a mouse” for optimal feline nutrition. I was thinking about it again this morning as I opened a new bag of dog food and found a free can of dog food inside.

The brochure packed with the can said that it contained chicken, rice, dried egg, prebiotics, beet pulp, antioxidants, and a balanced omega 6:3 ratio for skin and coat. I couldn’t help but feel that it was too bad we don’t give our own food’s contents as much thought, as we mindlessly reach for the potato chips.

Not that I plan to rush out and use the coupon that came with the can. (I’ll put it on the shelf with the cans next time I’m at the grocery so someone else can use it.) We don’t feed our cats or dogs canned food, however nourishing. (Though I may put a little of this on our current dog, our black German shepherd, Shiloh’s, dry food as a treat until the can is used up.)

We’ve fed dry food to our dogs since I got my first golden retriever, Annie, and the breeder insisted that I feed her Eukanuba large breed dry food. We fed our second golden, Molly, Eukanuba as well, and both ate it with alacrity (and anything else we chose to give them). Goldens love food, and ours would eat anything, including fruits and vegetables, except for plain lettuce, and they’d eat lettuce if it was dressed.

Shiloh is a different story. Dog food doesn’t much interest her. We’ve tried every high-end brand of dry food two pet stores had to offer, but she ate them with no more enthusiasm than the IAMS large breed dry food we now give her. To entice her to eat it, we’ll add a little cottage cheese on top or bury a couple of those pellet-sized chicken or beef treats deep in the recesses of the bowl so she has to dig around to find them. A bit of shredded cheese on top works, too. But whatever we’re doing, she won’t eat her food unless she’s actually hungry (though you can bet the cottage cheese disappears fast enough!).

Why dry food? No obesity, shiny coat and eyes, brilliant white teeth with no dental problems and no need for home brushing or veterinary cleanings that require anesthesia. Our cats and dogs have thrived on dry food. But of course, that’s not all they get.

Shiloh loves her sweet potato and wild cherry (antioxidant-rich joint-health) treats. She also loves plain yogurt, cheese, and eggs fresh from our little organic flock. And, of course, whole wheat or multigrain bread and plain popcorn. We had to work with her on the fruits and veggies, but now she loves them and waits at my feet as I chop them for each meal, knowing she’ll get her share. She even loves plain lettuce! Interestingly, the two things she turns her snout up at are pasta and rice.

So our plan is to give our dogs an enriched dry food for basic nutrition, supplemented with a wide variety of healthy “people food.” Our dogs have all been huge—outsized even for their breeds—so we give them food specially formulated for large breeds, including nutrients to protect their joints. (Large breeds can develop joint issues as they age, so it’s important to protect them from obesity and anything else that puts undue strain on their joints, as well as to supplement their diets with joint-cushioning nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin.)

However, we recognize that other people approach their dogs’ diets very differently. Our friend Delilah cooks her Boston terrier, Dukie Macdonald, elaborate meals from scratch every week. She’ll make a week’s worth of Dukie’s food on the weekend and freeze individual portions so she can thaw and serve them to him daily. Like the Natural Cat author, she’s convinced that a carefully thought out combination of fresh, from-scratch foods is the best way to ensure Dukie’s good health. I’m sure his meals are every bit as tasty as the ones she and Chaz make for themselves!

Then there’s the raw-meat movement. Many dog lovers are absolutely convinced that the best food for dogs is raw meat, which of course would form part of their diet in the wild. (Though not all of it, never forget: Dogs, like people, chickens, pigs, and bears, are omnivores, enjoying a wide range of food, unlike cats, who are true carnivores. Not that ours don’t relish cheese, popcorn, and sweet breads like pumpkin bread along with their regular food.)

As a vegetarian, I’m not about to go for the raw-meat or cooked-meat options. I know that many vegetarians put their dogs on vegetarian diets, and dogs can do fine on them, but I’ve never been tempted to try that with our dogs (or, God forbid, cats). I figure I’ve chosen to be a vegetarian, they haven’t. But that doesn’t mean I’m prepared to bring slabs of raw meat into the house. (Shiloh does get plenty of bones to chew on, though, so her teeth and jaws get another workout.)

Then there’s the question of how much to feed. Our cats get full bowls of cat food and can eat as much as they like, when they like. They’ve never abused this arrangement and we’ve never had an overweight, finicky, or sickly cat. Shiloh gets two small cups of dry food in the morning and again at night, assuming she’s eaten her breakfast by then. (She tends to snack on it throughout the day unless she’s really motivated, when she’ll eat it at a single sitting, always lying down like a Roman Emperor at a banquet.)

So, what do you feed your dog? Why do you feed that particular food or menu? How much do you give them? And how do they like it? This inquiring mind wants to know!

                ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

Calling all phoebes. May 22, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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“FEE-bee! FEE-bee!” The persistent call is music to our friend Ben’s ears as it drifts through the bedroom window every morning. Silence Dogood and I have never had a phoebe here at Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, before. So we’re excited that this little flycatcher has decided to make her summer home here with us.

Our friend and local birding expert Rudy Keller assured us that if the phoebe was still here, she was nesting in our yard. He said one nests in his garage every year. Good news—maybe ours will return next year, too.

But what is a phoebe, anyway? Our friend Ben was clueless. (Silence, reading over my shoulder, just said that I should have written “typically clueless.” Shut up, Silence.) We hear ours, but we’ve never actually seen it, since it seems to be nesting in a thicket of trees and shrubs on the bank of our little creek, Hawk Run.

So I turned to my favorite birding website, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (www.allaboutbirds.org, or click the link on our blogroll at right), to find out more about it. Turns out, there are three phoebes, the black phoebe, Say’s phoebe, and our visitor, the Eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe). The Eastern phoebe is a warm-weather resident of the eastern half of the U.S. and much of Canada, heading South to the Gulf states for the winter. Looking at the photo of the Eastern phoebe, I could see why we hadn’t noticed it, even if we’ve seen it: It’s a small (5.5–6.7″), inconspicuous bird with a dark greyish-brown back and lighter grey underparts. Not exactly visually scintillating.

According to the Cornell site, Eastern phoebes nest on bridges and buildings, and can be identified because they “constantly wag their tails.” (Sounds like our black German shepherd, Shiloh.) It describes their preferred natural habitat as “woodlands and along forest edges, often near water.” Bingo! It also says that phoebes tend to be solitary, with the female preferring to hatch and raise her young alone. (This explains why we only hear one bird calling.) As implied by the name “flycatcher,” the phoebe mostly eats flying insects, though the site adds that it may also take small fruits.

The site also clued us in to a really cool fact in their “Cool Facts” section: The Eastern phoebe was the first bird ever to be banded, in 1804 and by none other than John James Audubon himself! (And here we thought Audubon only shot birds.)

So, okay, now we have our marching orders: Get the binoculars, head towards the stand of trees and our little bridge across Hawk Run, and look for an almost-invisible bird madly wagging its tail.

Then again, maybe we’ll just enjoy its morning call. Our friend Ben especially appreciates that the phoebe’s call, like the chickadee’s “Chickadee-dee,” actually sounds like “phoebe.” So many other descriptions of bird calls (“drink your tea”) strike me as fanciful to the point of ludicrous. (Then again, our friend Ben hears our little wind-up alarm clock saying everything from “pumpkin” and “Duncan” to “in the morning” and “don’t start asking,” so perhaps I shouldn’t talk.) But the little phoebe’s call rings true. 

“FEE-bee! FEE-bee!”

Pregnant? Consult Mommy MD May 21, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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If you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, a wonderful new resource is coming your way in June: The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. This book, by Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH (mother of three) and our friend Jennifer Bright Reich (professional author, mother of two) is unlike any pregnancy guide on the market.

That’s because, unlike other pregnancy books where a doctor hands down prescribed wisdom from on high that it’s unlikely that he’s ever used, in The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, doctors who are also mothers—more than 60 of them—share tips that they’ve used during their own pregnancies and births. In The Mommy MD Guide, you’ll find more than 900 tips that have worked for these doctors and mothers as they’ve navigated their own paths from conception to birth. As our friend Jennifer says, “If  a tip works for a doctor juggling a busy practice and a hectic home life, it’ll likely work for you too.”

But don’t take our word for it. Check out some of these Mommy MD tips for combating morning sickness:

“I had an especially rough time when riding in a car. I found that Sea-Band wrist bands helped.”—Kelly Campbell, MD

“During my pregnancies, when I felt a little sick to my stomach, I put crackers near my bed and drank 7-Up.”—Hana R. Solomon, MD

“One thing that tasted good that I could keep down was a Slurpee from 7-Eleven.”—Judy Dudum, MD

“All I wanted to eat was fried potatoes; anything else made me sick… I never figured out that eating was what made the nausea go away.”—Stacey Marie Kerr, MD 

“At some point in the pregnancy, I stopped being able to tolerate liquids of any kind—even water. Seltzer water always came to my rescue. It worked best during those times when I was at a restaurant and I felt the nausea wave coming. If you don’t like plain seltzer, try one with fruit flavoring.”—Tyeese Gaines Reed, DO

“I discovered one thing that was amazingly effective: chopped, fresh ginger… I took a thumbnail-size piece of fresh gingerroot, chopped it fine, and steeped it like you would tea in hot water, for two to three minutes. I’d sip that all day long and chew up the ginger at the bottom of each mug.”—Ann Kulze, MD

“In my third pregnancy, I also discovered that an over-the-counter sleep medicine called Unisom helps ease morning sickness.”—Ann LaBarge, MD

The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth is 512 pages and only $17.95. Preorder yours now from www.MommyMDGuides.com or from Amazon. You’ll be glad you did!

Bleeping poison ivy. May 20, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Ugh, this past weekend marked the start of our friend Ben’s weekly poison ivy patrol here at Hawk’s Haven, the rustic cottage Silence Dogood and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Birds love poison ivy berries and spread their seeds wherever poison ivy grows. So about this time in spring, poison ivy seedlings emerge all over the place. And you’d better get them while they’re small, or next thing you know, they’ll form huge, shrubby vines that are climbing into your trees or taking over your banks.

If you’re an organic gardener like our friend Ben, there are really only two ways to control poison ivy: Patrol your property weekly and pull out any seedlings you find, or cut a section of ivy trunk out of an established poison ivy vine, let it die, and pull it out. Needless to say, pulling seedlings is the easier way to go. I patrol our property weekly with a latex glove on my right hand and a plastic bag in the left hand. When I see the evil PI seedlings, I pull them with the gloved hand and stuff them in the plastic bag. Once I’ve finished my rounds, I strip off the glove, put it in the bag with the PI, and toss the whole thing in the trash.

Returning to the house, I wash up to the elbows with Tecnu, a space-age invention that strips poison ivy’s evil rash-inducing oil, urushiol, off the skin, and follow that with a regular wash with Dial liquid soap. I always do the poison ivy patrol in the early morning, when it’s cool, since the hotter and more humid the weather, the more likely the dreaded urushiol will spread over your humidified skin.

By patrolling each and every weekend during the growing season, we’ve kept poison ivy under control here at Hawk’s Haven. But not three miles down the road, we see it all over trees in the yard of an otherwise spectacular Victorian house. The poison ivy stands out 2 to 3 feet from the trunks of the trees. What are these people thinking?! Aren’t they concerned about getting the itchy, weeping, ugly rash?

Please, if poison ivy is a nightmare in your area, start now and start small. Don’t let even one plant get a toehold. Weekly patrols will keep this domestic nightmare under control. And check out our earlier post, “What to do about poison ivy,” for more controls and remedies.

Spaghetti sauce and splatter shields. May 19, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night was cold, rainy, and miserable here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Good for the plants, bad for the spirits. This called for rich, spicy, warming food, and my homemade spaghetti sauce fit the bill perfectly. With a huge, crunchy salad and a glass of red wine, it’s guaranteed to lift anybody’s spirits!

I’ll give you the recipe in a moment, but first, I have to say a few words in praise of whoever invented the splatter shield. Splatter shields are round screens with long handles that sit on top of pots and pans and keep whatever’s cooking in them from splattering out all over the place and/or all over you. They’re especially helpful with thick sauces and hot cereals, which have to cook until they’re super-thick while you stand over the stove and stir (and stir, and… ).

Spaghetti sauce is one of the worst culprits, since it not only splatters all over the stove and everything on it and the nearest counter, but if it gets on your clothes, it’s fiendishly difficult to get out. My other nemesis in this regard is grits. Grits cooked right are delicious, but the only good grits are thick enough to eat with a fork, and as they thicken to this stage, they spit. Trust me, having a blob of molten grits land on your bare arm is one of the more painful ways to start your day.

Before I discovered splatter shields, cooking either of these dishes was, if not torture, at least scary. But with the splatter shield firmly in place, the stove and I are spared from random attacks. And when I lift the shield to stir, I can use one hand and angle it to protect myself while stirring with the other. (No wonder they call it a “shield”!) Bless you, splatter shield inventor, whoever you are.

Now, on to the sauce. Because I’m a vegetarian, this is a meatless sauce, but it’s so thick and rich you’d never know it. For years, I added diced zucchini to thicken the sauce, after discovering that the zukes would cook completely down and simply add texture rather than remaining recognizable. (If you’d like to try this version, dice three medium-size zukes into small dice and add them to the sauce after you add the green pepper.) But this past year, I inadvertently discovered (while making sauce with no zucchinis on hand) that the sauce was just as thick and rich without them, so these days, I skip that step.

Like a soup or stew, this sauce is extremely forgiving. If you don’t have crushed tomatoes, you can substitute tomato sauce. If you’d like a bit more spice and crunch, toss in a carton of fresh salsa. No green peppers in the house? See how a yellow, orange, or red pepper does. Have two green peppers in the house that you need to use right away? Put them both in.

There are just two ironclad rules: First, you must cook the sauce over low heat until it is incredibly thick and rich, and that means standing over the stove and stirring. And second, you must include the two “secret ingredients,” red wine and sugar, both of which deepen the flavor. (For those who avoid alcohol, remember that the alcohol itself evaporates out during cooking.)

That’s it, then! Here we go:

                  Silence’s Spaghetti Sauce

2 large onions, diced (you can use sweet or cooking onions or one of each)

4 large cloves garlic, minced

2 large cartons button mushrooms, sliced, then sliced again crosswise

1 large green bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme, and Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) 

1 teaspoon each dried rosemary, marjoram, black pepper (we like lemon pepper) and hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

1 large (12-ounce) can tomato paste

1 large (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon sugar

dry red wine (chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, or whatever you have on hand)

extra-virgin olive oil

shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese

I always start by putting a huge, heavy pot of water, covered, on the stove to boil. (I use my biggest LeCreuset Dutch oven for the pasta and my second-biggest for the sauce.) Once I see that the water has come to a full boil, I’ll turn it off, leaving it covered, until it’s time to cook the pasta. The heavy pot retains the heat, so it will just take a minute or two to return that big pot of water to a boil rather than the 10 or 15 minutes or more it would take if I were starting with cold water.

Next, I pour a liberal amount of olive oil in another large, heavy pot, making sure the oil covers the bottom of the pot. Turning the heat on low, I wait until the oil is starting to heat up, then add the diced onions, minced garlic, and Trocomare or salt. When the onions have clarified, add the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms have released their liquid, add the dried herbs, black pepper, and hot sauce, stirring well. Add the diced green pepper. (Now’s the time to add those diced zukes if you want them.) Add the tomato paste, stirring until it completely coats the veggies. Add the crushed tomatoes, stirring until the sauce is totally blended.

Now for those “secret ingredients”: Once the sauce is hot, sprinkle the sugar over the top, stirring it in. Then pour a ring of wine around the perimeter of the pot and stir that in.

That’s all there is to it! Now it’s just a waiting game. Put your splatter shield in place (I use my bamboo spoon to weight it down as an extra precaution), turn the heat down as low as you can and still cook the sauce (I have a gas stove, so that’s easy for me), and make a wonderful salad while you wait, watch, and stir every few minutes to prevent burning. (I recommend putting on some great music and having a glass of that wine you added to the sauce to make the time go faster. And don’t forget to enjoy that incredible aroma!)

Once the sauce is super-thick (too thick to come easily off the stirring spoon without scraping), turn the heat to warm (or, in the case of a gas stove, almost off) and put the lid on the pot. (The splatter shield has done its work and can be retired to the sink.) Turn the heat back on under your water, return it to a boil, and add your pasta. (I like traditional thick spaghetti with this, but penne, fettucine, and cheese ravioli are also good. But don’t use a thin pasta with this thick sauce.) Cook the pasta ’til al dente, drain, and serve topped with sauce. Pass around a bowl of shredded Parmesan or Asiago so everyone can take as much or as little as they choose (or skip the cheese all together, the sauce really holds up on its own).

Don’t forget big bowls of that crunchy salad! I like to make a complex salad to serve with spaghetti, with mixed greens—always including Romaine, endive, arugula, and radicchio—diced red onion, scallions (green onions), diced red, yellow, or orange bell pepper (or a combination), diced fresh mozzarella, sliced hard-boiled eggs, fresh basil, and pepitas (roasted, salted pumpkin seeds). Then I dress it simply with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and balsamic vinegar. Yum!

Try my sauce and let me know what you think. And if you haven’t already discovered splatter shields, head to the nearest store that sells kitchenware and get one. You’ll soon be thanking the inventor, too!

                  ‘Til next time,

                               Silence

The perfumed air. May 18, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night, I was sitting on our deck enjoying a little down time with our black German shepherd, Shiloh. (Our friend Ben was delayed by a meeting, so I had time to relax and enjoy the beauty of the heavily “planted” deck, with its numerous containers, and backyard here at Hawk’s Haven before heading in to make supper.)

I was relaxing into the peace of the evening—the only sounds the calls of birds and the gurgling of Hawk Run, our little stream, as it passed the deck—and watching the greening of the air as day deepened to dusk, when I smelled the most heavenly perfume. The air around me became saturated with the fragrance, light and intoxicating. What could it be, and why did it come on so suddenly?

One of our citrus plants was blooming on the deck, and for a moment I wondered if I could be smelling that famous orange-blossom fragrance. But no, it just had a few open blooms, and I had to get quite close to enjoy them. (By contrast, when our citrus bloom in the confines of the greenhouse, they fill the enclosed space with fragrance.) Our honeysuckles are blooming. Could that be what I was smelling? No, this wasn’t the distinctive honeysuckle fragrance, and it had just started up as the sky began to darken. Our beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) is also in bloom, and our neighbors have one blooming now, too. Could that be what I smelled? Alas, no, they may be beautiful, but they’re not fragrant. Lilacs? Again, the fragrance wasn’t right.

As I wandered to the back of the property to turn off the lights in the greenhouse, my eye was caught by the masses of dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) blooming in the island beds around our trees and shrubs.

Dame’s rocket? Surely not! These plants bloom abundantly for us at this time every year, their four-petaled blossoms attesting to their membership in the mustard family, their shades of purple, lavender, white, and bicolors of all of these echoing the blooms of honesty, aka money plant (Lunaria annua) that is just now beginning to flower and  foreshadowing the garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) that will follow them come summer. We enjoy the clouds of color, but it had never occurred to me that dame’s rocket might be fragrant, having never smelled any fragrance from it before. Still, I had to find out. Bringing my nose near the closest clump, I realized that the divine fragrance that was scenting the air around Hawk’s Haven was indeed coming from these plants. What the bleep was going on?!

Reluctantly dragging myself back inside, I rushed to the computer and Googled Hesperis matronalis. And sure enough, Wikipedia had the answers I sought. The first clue was in the plant’s generic epithet, Hesperis, Greek for “evening.” Dame’s rocket was given this name because it releases its scent in the evening. Two of its common names, night-scented gilliflower and mother-of-the-evening, also allude to this characteristic. The Wikipedia article also noted that dame’s rocket was brought to America in the 17th century, that in Europe it is host to a number of species of butterfly caterpillars, and that in the U.S., it’s so successful at naturalizing and competing with native species that it’s been banned in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Colorado.

Fortunately, we’ve been successful at keeping ours confined to our own property, where it’s spread steadily but manageably in the island beds beneath our trees. This year, I guess it finally reached a sufficient population to perfume the evening air. Or perhaps I’d never happened to be sitting outside at that hour at this time of year before. But you can bet I’ll be sitting out on the deck every rainless night from now until dame’s rocket’s bloom time is over, and making sure OFB is, too. The delicious fragrance is worthy of Shangri-La.

                  ‘Til next time,

                                  Silence

American food. May 17, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Taking a break from the past weekend’s mad round of gardening, our friend Ben and I headed to scenic Kutztown, PA to our favorite used bookstore, Saucony Book Shop. While OFB scanned the travel section to pick out a birthday present for his father, I snuck back to the cookbook shelves to see what was new.

I found a treasure—at least, for Sherlock Holmes fans like us—the Sherlock Holmes Cookbook—which presents recipes and menus that might have been served to Holmes, Watson, and even Professor Moriarty in 1895 London. For a Holmes enthusiast who’s also an enthusiastic cook, the game was definitely afoot.

Next, I saw a reproduction of Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook, full of vintage photos and recipes with titles like Creole Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Iceberg Cupcakes, Vanilla Drizzle, Chocolate Gelatin Sauce (comment suppressed), Clear Cocoa Sauce (say what?!), Our Gal Sundae Pie, Mocha Chocolate Marlow, Chocolate Robins (a Peeps predecessor?), Silk Stocking Almond Cookies, and Country Club Two-Story Fudge. I thought the book was worth buying for the recipe titles alone, but this was the era of my beloved Grandma, and I knew that paging through the photos and recipes would bring her, a young woman and new housewife, alive to me long before I had been alive to know her.

My eye was caught by a third book, American Food: The Gastronomic Story.  Weighing the risk of outraging our friend Ben by purchasing three more cookbooks to add to the already-groaning cookbook shelves—at this point, more than three entire book cases’ worth—versus missing an enticing book on American food history, I decided to go for it.

Then I hit a snag: The book was on a very high shelf, which, at 5’5″, I could barely reach in any case. And there were two books piled horizontally on top of it. Still, I stretched upwards and attempted to ease the volume off of the shelf. No good: The two books on top also began inching out, promising the imminent destruction of my skull and our cordial relations with Saucony’s owner, Brendan Strasser.  (For those who are wondering why I didn’t simply ask the 6’3″ OFB to come to my assistance, he had prudently made his purchase and returned to the car to spend some quality time with our black German shepherd, Shiloh, leaving me to my own vices, I mean, devices.)

Reluctantly abandoning the volume, I took my two books to the counter. Brendan remarked that he’d just set out the Hershey book 15 minutes before our arrival. We began chatting about the other new cookbooks, at which point I mentioned American Food. Coming to the rescue, Brendan extracted the volume, and I was soon on my way with a rather sizeable bag, which I attempted to slide as inconspicuously as possible into the back of the car.

This morning, I finally got a few minutes to spend time getting to know American Food. I knew I was in for an entertaining (if potentially gruesome) read when I saw this: “…on that cold winter day in Plymouth when Miles Standish and friends shot and roasted over coals an eagle ‘which was excellent meat–‘ so they said, thinking of Merrie England, ‘hardly to be discerned from mutton.'”

But who was the book’s author, Evan Jones? He’d been able to get enthusiastic cover quotes from James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher (American Food was published by Dutton in 1975), but I’d never heard of him. Then I saw that the second part of the book contained “More Than 500 Distinctive Regional, Traditional and Contemporary Recipes,” which, according to Beard, had been “tested with the assistance of his wife, Judith.”

Ah, Judith Jones! Now here was a name I recognized. Judith Jones, the legendary editor who discovered Julia Child, James Beard, and Jacques Pepin, among many, many others. Judith Jones, John Updike’s editor, the person who rescued The Diary of Anne Frank from the reject pile as a young editor and persuaded her publishing house to take a gamble on it (as she would years later with Julia’s groundbreaking Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to which she also contributed the title).

Now I was curious. The last time I’d seen Judith Jones had been in a documentary on Julia Child, when that natural phenomenon had still been alive and (of course) kicking. Was Judith herself still kicking? And if so, what was she up to these days?

Heading to my good friend Google, I followed the link to Judith Jones’s Wikipedia bio. I saw that Judith is now a senior editor and vice president at Knopf (where she has worked since 1957), and that she’s still discovering and publishing important new talent, as well as writing books of her own (Cooking for One, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food). The Tenth Muse instantly joined my must-read list. I also discovered that Judith has a delightful blog, “The Pleasures of Cooking for One” (http://judithjonescooks.com/). It’s beautifully done and a pleasure to read.

Getting back to American Food, I scanned through the recipe section and found more than a few surprises. I’ll refrain from sharing an 1832 recipe for “Eel Stifle” (trust me, you don’t want to know) and one for “Pennsylvania Dutch Eel-Shrimp Soup” (while wondering where the landlocked Penna Dutch managed to find eels, much less shrimp). I’ll even spare you the recipe for “Pennsylvania Dutch Fried Cucumbers” (and here I thought the sudden penchant for fried pickles in area restaurants was a “Supersize Me” phenomenon, not a historical tradition.)

But I simply must share a recipe for something which, I belatedly recognized, was guacamole. (I actually didn’t realize this until I got to the end of the ingredients list and saw “dip-size tacos,” presumably the tortilla chips of the day.) Guacamole may have taken a while to catch on outside the Southwest, but at least it’s indigenous to the Americas. (Unlike such “all-American” foods as pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, bagels, sandwiches, and the like, and condiments like mustard and ketchup.) So it certainly merits a place in a book called American Food. But oh, my, take a look at this recipe:

                    Avocado-Hazelnut Dip

1 large avocado

1/2 cup cottage cheese

lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet red pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped green pepper

1 scallion, minced

2 tablespoons minced parsley

shredded fresh basil

dip-size tacos

Peel and mash avocado and blend with cottage cheese and a few drops of lemon juice until smooth. Mix in nuts, peppers, minced scallion and parsley. Add salt and pepper only if needed. Serve in a mound garnished with strips of purple basil (if available), or parsley, and surrounded by tacos. Makes about 2 cups.

Actually, I’m tempted to try it. Non-traditional as it is, it would add both lightness and crunchy texture to a standard guacamole, making it possible for texture-sensitive folks like me, who can’t normally bear the slippery-slimy texture of avocado, to possibly be able to eat this super-healthful “alligator pear.”

If you can find a copy of American Food in your local used bookstore or online, and you love food history and/or American history, I highly recommend it. Not to put too fine a point on it, the more we know, the more we know.

                  ‘Til next time,

                                   Silence

Best of the week at PRA, May 10-16 May 16, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we’ve made a practice of picking our favorite posts each week and highlighting them in a week’s-end “Best of” post. Since we try to post (at least) once a day, we know it can be hard to keep up. And of course we have our own favorite posts every week that we’d hate for you to miss. With this post, you can skim post titles and, if anything catches your attention, either scroll on down to find it or search the title in our search bar at upper right.

This week, our faves are:

Ramping up. Our friend Ben is inspired to find out more about ramps, a native wild delicacy, and is even inspired to order a plant.

Fun with walking iris. Plants that send out offsets on their own are not just fun to watch and grow. (Can you say “free plants”?!) One of our all-time faves is the walking iris, and you can meet it here.

Drying flowers. A neighbor asked Silence Dogood for help drying flowers. In this post, Silence shares what works, what doesn’t, and why you should choose a particular technique for the flowers and use you have in mind.

That’s it for this week! We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed writing them!

Help for gardeners’ hands. May 15, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I don’t know about you, but dirt under the fingernails isn’t the only malady I struggle with during the gardening season. I’m right-handed, and the skin of my index finger and thumb around the fingernail of my right hand split and bleed as I try to work in the garden.

This is humiliating and inconvenient—hey, I have work to do!—but it’s also amazingly painful. Try doing the most trivial thing—winding your watch, plucking your eyebrows, unscrewing a bottle cap—with a split finger and you’ll learn first-hand why torturers stick bamboo splinters under people’s fingernails. The least stupid thing is just incredibly painful. Owww!!!!

As a result, I’ve been on the hunt for something that could help alleviate the situation. It’s not like I don’t take care of my hands—I put on hand lotion every morning and night—but it simply can’t combat the stress of gardening (or, say, winter cold and dryness) on my fingers.

The best thing I’ve found so far is a cream called O’Keeffe’s Working Hands. Its claims are “For Hands & Feet That Crack & Split” and “The LEADING Skin Therapy for People Who WORK with Their HANDS.” I stumbled on a jar at an ancient hardware store in scenic Kutztown, PA, and have been applying it to cracks and splits ever since. But sadly, last time I visited that store, they didn’t have any. And of course there’s no website on the jar.

Thank God for our good friend Google. They came up with O’Keeffe’s own website, http://shop.okeeffescompany.com/, which revealed that, in addition to O’Keeffe’s Working Hands, the company makes and sells O’Keeffe’s Healthy Feet and O’Keeffe’s Life Out There. All are extremely reasonably priced, at $5.99 to $6.99.

So, fellow gardeners, what do you use on your own chapped, splitting, cracking, bleeding, miserable hands and/or feet? And how do you like what you use? This inquiring mind wants to know.

          ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

Ramping up. May 14, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Recently, our friend Nancy Ondra posted a wonderful piece on ramps (Allium tricoccum, aka wild leek) on her beautiful and informative blog, Hayefield. (Click on the Hayefield link on our blogroll at right and look for “In the Woods;” you’ll be in for a rare treat, and a lovely photoessay on vernal ponds as well as ramps.) Now, Nan lives relatively close to our friend Ben here in scenic PA, and she showed photos of large stands of ramps growing in her parents’ woods down the street from Hayefield House. Yet our friend Ben has never seen a ramp. How can this be, I wondered?

What is a ramp, you ask? It’s a member of the onion family that grows wild throughout parts of the Eastern and Central U.S. and Canada, emerging in spring and going dormant before summer, like so many ephemeral spring wildflowers. And it’s edible. But it doesn’t look like other edible onion relatives because it grows low to the ground in clumps with broad, spear-shaped leaves rather than the straplike foliage of garlic chives or the grasslike leaves of garlic or the tubular, spiky foliage of onions, chives, shallots, and the like.

Now, our friend Ben knew that ramps were edible, because I’d heard of ramp enthusiasts in the Smokies and the Blue Ridge gathering in spring for ramp festivals. But I didn’t know they were actually good until I read Nan’s post. (She describes the flavor as oniony-garlicky, like garlic chives, but sweeter.)

I figured if ramps grew in Nan’s woods, they would grow here at Hawk’s Haven in our shaded creekside garden or woodland wildflower garden. And as a diehard allium fanatic, I was determined to get some. Following the link Nan provided to Prairie Moon Nursery (www.prairiemoon.com), I saw that they sold both ramp seeds and plants. Of course, the sensible thing to do would be to get a packet of seeds. But our friend Ben is nothing if not into instant gratification, so I ordered a plant instead.

One plant? Even Nan seemed stunned by this uncharacteristic display of parsimony, and heaven knows what the poor folks at Prairie Moon thought. But having spent a good part of the early spring digging and potting up volunteer garlic chive seedlings, our friend Ben reasoned that if the plant lived, thrived, and flowered, it would set seed, and from those seeds its progeny would grow and spread, until eventually Silence Dogood and I would have a nice ramp stand of our own and could have our own ramp festival. (Or at least harvest a few leaves and bulbs for salads and stir-fries.)

Eager to learn more about these intriguing plants, I turned to Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest (also available from Prairie Moon). From Thayer, I learned that ramps are “strongly associated” with sugar maples and are typically found in maple forests. I also found this wonderful description of the foliage: “Smooth and rather flimsy, ramp leaves have a rubbery feel. In hot weather they often droop like the ears of a puppy.”

Today, our lone ramp arrived, and our friend Ben wasted no time getting it in the ground. (If you’d like to order ramp plants from Prairie Moon rather than seeds, get your order in now, since they stop shipping at the end of May and won’t ship again ’til fall.) I was encouraged to find that Samuel Thayer says “The dense clumps that make ramps convenient to harvest are the result of a single founder plant reproducing itself vegetatively and spreading slowly in all directions.” Well, we have our founder plant. 

Here at Hawk’s Haven, we’re ramping up.